UnderCover Waitress: September 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Orlando Sentinel Writer Seeks Information

Received a note from Sandra Pedicini from the Orlando Sentinel. With her permission, I am quoting it here verbatim. She said it was fine to post her contact information.
"Hi there. 
I've seen your recent blog posts about Darden.
I cover Darden for the Orlando Sentinel, and I'd like to ask for your help. I'm trying to find people who have worked for new Olive Gardens, Red Lobsters and LongHorn Steakhouses - ones that have opened in the past six months. I'm also looking for anyone who works at these chains that has been labeled something called an M28. I'd like to ask them a couple questions about benefits and hours. 
Would you mind posting something about that?
I do not have to use their names. 
They can reach me at spedicini@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5240
- Sandra Pedicini"
Articles written by Sandra Pedicini for the Orlando Sentinel include, but are not limited to:

New wait-staff rules cut costs for Red Lobster — but will service suffer?;

Darden Restaurants enforces tip-sharing policy;

Lawsuits over worker pay soar as economy struggles;

Darden's profit rises, even as Red Lobster slumps;

Group won't pursue Darden claims in court; and

Darden quadruples PAC donations to $684K.

Blogger at Red Lobster Blog has spoken in the past with Sandra Pedicini, and claims she always gives the working stiff a fair shake.

Still, if you are squeamish about contacting a reporter, you may consider signing up for a temporary email address at a free site such Hide My A$$. You can choose how long your anonymous email will exist; for example, one day, one week, one month, one year... While I expect that a professional reporter such as Pedicini will do as she says and respect your anonymity, if an anonymous email helps anybody then I am glad I included the information.

So, I looked up "M28." It is a type of light cargo and passenger aircraft. It is an airplane. I am wrapping my head around how a restaurant could use the title "M28." Perhaps anyone who has suffered through being cramped in an economy middle seat for a long flight, waiting for the stewardess (who is NOT a glorified waitress) to bring a bottle of water might not be surprised at the "M28" title in a crowded restaurant...? Seriously, I read that if a server is classified as "M28," then s/he is not allowed to work more than 30 hours per week, which is supposed to be a cost-cutting measure. Still, I love the coincidence. 

Darden Health Insurance and Other News Tidbits

Direct quote from Seeking Alpha
"Corporations alter their health-insurance provisions. A major change is underfoot in the way firms provide employee health coverage: Instead of offering insurance, Sears (SHLD) and Darden Restaurants (DRI) are preparing to give workers cash and let them choose coverage from an online marketplace. WellPoint (WLP), AON (AON) and Towers Watson (TW) are placing bets on the new model, while UnitedHealth (UNH) is taking a wait-and-see approach." [emphasis mine.] 

That is all I have so far. My question is whether this new health insurance "plan" will be offered to all employees, or only those who are not hourly. In other words, does this affect waitresses and waiters? Time will tell, and I will be watching.

Of course, if the voters in the United States of America keep Obama in office for another four years, and give him some fair-minded Congressmen to work with, everybody may have access to health insurance soon enough, regardless.


Other tidbits:

A waitress in London who was considered an "exceptional employee" was fired from a McDonald's recently for so-called "gross misconduct." She added too many chocolate sprinkles to a McFlurry. I don't think those things are really made of chocolate... the gross mishandling of the faux chocolate sprinkles jar was for the benefit of a co-worker. While the co-worker was paying for the dessert, the fired waitress was accused of stealing food in the form of a few extra chocolate sprinkles. Yeah, it starts with chocolate sprinkles, and ends with embezzlement. Sheesh.


My most sincere apologies to Canada. It seems you are being infected with American bad taste, and the Tilted Kilt now has a Toronto location. I am so sorry.


Funny rant at CafeMom: If You Can't Leave A Decent Tip, Stay Home And Cook Your Own Damn Food.


And in closing, kudos to Lisa Ferreira, waitress at a 99 Restaurant in Milford. She performed CPR on a customer, a retired nun, and saved the woman's life. Perhaps her tip includes a place in heaven.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Victory for Workers at Del Posto Restaurant

Received a "heads-up" from ROC United.

The Wall Street Journal reports that after a two year battle, 31 workers at Del Posto Restaurant have won a $1.15 million settlement. The suit alleged:

  • Management helped themselves to monies from the tip pool;
  • Employees who worked banquets received a flat rate, not an hourly rate;
  • Employees who worked banquets were denied tip monies that were paid to the restaurant;

Celebrity owner Mario Batali has denied the allegations; however, he has agreed to work with ROC United to create a mutually beneficial relationship between the management and the workers in his restaurant. He is quoted as saying he wants his restaurant to be a "high road employer." High road employers use ethical employment practices that give workers the chance to make a good living for themselves. I say, kudos!

Among the improvements that will be put in place at Del Posto Restaurant:

  • Expansion of paid sick days policies;
  • A promotions policy;
  • Cultural sensitivity training for management;
  • Expansion of paid vacation policies, and more. 
So, who wants Italian for dinner?

Friday, September 21, 2012

No More Weeds!

C2it has a valuable course for restaurant customers on YouTube. Put your feet up, enjoy the education and the laugh:

Have a great weekend and make lots of tips!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Darden Foundation 2012 Report

The Darden Foundation 2012 report, Ready and Willing to Serve, was released today. You may read the entire report at http://www.dardenfoundation.com/

CEO Clarence Otis puts a good face on everything in his executive report:

"With 180,000 employees, 2,000 restaurants and a culture that is based on caring for and responding to people, Darden works to bring a spirit of service to life every day in our restaurants and communities through our philanthropic support of charitable organizations across the country and by the volunteer involvement of our employees."

I do not wish to fault Darden Restaurants for participating in philanthropic work. Darden Foundation's three main focus areas include:

* Access to Postsecondary Education, in which disadvantaged youth are given tools to help them achieve and attend college;

* Preservation of Natural Resources, which includes preservation of parks and trails; and

* Good Neighbor, in which Darden donates unused food to food banks, schools, and communities. Other restaurants throw good, edible food away.

Attention, employees! We need to fire some of you
and ask the rest to give more of your pay to our
charitable causes.
Then, we will take credit for giving to charity.
What bag behind me? 
What the shareholders and the public need to remember when "feel good" and "warm and fuzzy" stories are published touting Darden Foundation's philanthropy is where the profits that are put toward charity come from. Percentages of profits should go to charitable causes, but those profits should come from making sales and paying corporate employees less extravagant compensation packages. Telling a waitress that her pay is slashed by half only ensures that she will need to become a recipient of Darden's donation to the food shelf. So, what next? Darden gets a pat on the back for letting workers eat for free (at the food shelf?)

If you want to build a better society, require that the rich put a portion of their wealth back into the pot to pay for social services. It makes no sense to rob from the poor to give to the poor.


I can't resist pointing out how the wealth of the Darden elite and how they treat their employees mirrors how the extremely wealthy in this country often treat the disadvantaged and the poor. When I hear the middle and upper classes scream about how the poor don't pay enough in taxes, I feel like I just fell down the rabbit hole. We have multi-millionaires who pay small percentages of their income in taxes because investment income is taxed at a different rate (among other problems.) The middle class is blind to this. Instead, they groan and moan about how they aren't able to get food stamps like poor people, as if the poor have it easy with all the "hand-outs." You want a fair system? Then tax people fairly, and make the rich pay up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

At The Shareholder's Meeting Darden Restaurants

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, better known as ROC United, has released their newest report on Dignity at Darden: Darden's  decision: Which  future  for  Olive  Garden,  Red  Lobster,  &  the  Capital  Grille?

This is on the same day (Tuesday, September 18, 2012) that members of ROC United and restaurant workers attended a shareholder's meeting with Darden CEO Clarence Otis. The Orlando Sentinel reports some of the details of the confrontation. 

"John Cronan, an organizer with Restaurant Opportunities Centers, said he was a former Capital Grille waiter often waited on customers while ill. "I couldn't afford to take a day off even if I was sick," he said.
Otis told him, "As a former worker, you know that we have very strict and aggressive rules to encourage people not to come to work when they're ill, so I'm glad you're a former employee and not a current employee.""
Cronan's comment to Otis was on the heels of Otis touting Darden as a great company to work for as he bragged about Darden's supposed record of great employee engagement. Otis' response to Cronan shows his true level of interest in his employee's well being.

To understand just how callous and out-of-touch Otis is with his employees, you need to know how different his lifestyle is from the people he employs. Forbes lists Otis' total compensation for 2011 as over 8 million dollars. 

"Compensation for 2011
Salary $1,022,169
Bonus $0
Restricted stock awards $1,869,007
All other compensation $489,876
Option awards $2,978,096
Non-equity incentive plan compensation $2,121,000
Change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings $0
Total Compensation $8,480,148"

Otis has the audacity to look Cronan in the eye and chide him for having to work sick on a waiter's pay. Otis doesn't provide any sick time pay for hourly employees. (Does anybody have a salaried waitress or waiter job? Seriously?) And yet, good luck running a dining room without food servers. Seems an odd way to encourage employee engagement by slashing employee pay, denying benefits, then playing "holier than thou" when people can't afford to stay home when they are sick.

Otis did not wish to accept the invitation to meet with the workers. He continued to resist even as his shareholders encouraged him to listen to the workers and expressed their own concerns.

One shareholder:
"wondered if Darden could be losing some of its better servers because of policies such as one implemented last year that slashed bartenders' and busboys' hourly pay and required servers to share tips with them."
Gosh, I just don't know... maybe.

Bring Your Bank

Ask the Waitress!

Is it legal for my employer to require me to bring my own bank? 

This is a legal and rather common practice. The employer is not asking you to spend your own money. Usually, restaurants that require wait staff to bring their own banks have computerized POS systems. This makes keeping track of things easier (unless the computer is programmed poorly.)

Every time you take payment, you either put in a credit card tip or receive a cash tip. You may need to make change with the bank you brought, which seems as if you are spending your own money. You are not.

Let's say you bring $50 for your bank.
You make sales of $1,000.
You earn $200 in tips.

If all of your sales were credit card sales, you will go home with your untouched $50 and $200 from the till (minus tip out.)

Lets say you made cash sales and used your bank to make change. A customer spent $50 and wanted to tip you $10. He handed you a $100 bill. You handed him $40 back. You now have $100 from the customer and $10 left in your bank = $110.

When you cash out, the till will expect you to give it the $50 that the customer spent on food.
$110 - $50 = $60.
$60 = your $10 tip plus the $50 bank you brought in.

Make sense?

I understand that it may seem difficult at first; if you wait tables on a regular basis then you will likely be able to set aside what you need for the next shift's bank. Once you are "in the groove" regarding having a bank handy, you may find it is easier and faster to carry your own bank. I prefer carrying my own bank because I can make change quickly for a table instead of making them wait for the register.

A reasonable employer will help you make change if you run out of your bank or need smaller change. For example, your first table pays with a $100 bill and wipes out your bank. A reasonable employer will change the $100 bill for you so you can function the rest of the shift.

So yes, it is legal to ask servers to carry their own banks. Carrying your own bank does not cost you money.

Thanks for asking the waitress!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Darden Salaries and Wages

The following comment on Dirt on Darden got under my skin. My sympathies, of course, are with the anonymous waitress who wrote the comment:

"If I have a good enough night, and an SA has helped me over the top serving a big party or something I do share some of the tip with them, but honestly, if I tipped out all the SA's on top of what I'm tipping out now at the higher rate- I just could not do it. I'm a server trying to feed my kid-if you tip one you must tip them all or they hate you..it really hurt us when the tip out went up, now many of us cannot go even higher..I hate to leave but I just am feeling crappy about the whole thing now."

This is my response in the comment thread:

"Anonymous, Darden WANTS you to feel crappy about it, they want you to feel guilty, and they want you to feel responsible for compensating other employees. It is the responsibility of the employer to pay employees. It is not your responsibility to pay other employees; you are there to make money just like they are. It is your responsibility to feed your child. Darden has the resources to pay people a decent wage, they just don't want to. They want you to feel obligated to do it for them. Does that make sense? No. If you have no other way of accessing how much money other positions make, look at what managers and higher-ups drive."

I am so tired of corporate and managers at various businesses that employ low-wage laborers (not just restaurants) extracting a sick combination of loyalty and guilt from workers in order to save money. It is worse (in my opinion) in restaurants because managers essentially sick waitresses and other FOH staff against each other by making waitresses responsible for paying other employees. Everybody starts fighting about the tip outs and forgets who is truly responsible for worker pay.

I have been on the fight from both sides: waitress and hostess. As a low-paid hostess, I depended on the tip out to supplement my little-over minimum wage, hourly pay. Of course, I got angry when people tried to pay less than policy dictated. As a waitress, some restaurant tip out policies are so high that you feel like your blood is being siphoned at the end of the shift.

While battling over tips, everybody loses sight of who is really responsible for paying restaurant staff, and the resources that are available with which to pay people. So I visited the Glass Door website and poked around looking at various Darden careers and their salaries.

People at the top are certainly making six-figure salaries.

The Executive Vice President of Operations is making about $240,000 annually in salary alone.

Directors average $137,000 per year.

Brand Managers pull in about $100,000 per year.
Associate Brand Managers only make $80,000 per year.

Accounting Supervisors make about $70,000.
Employee Relations Managers also make about $70,000.

Assistant Managing Partners: $65,000.
Analysts: $60,000.

Executive Assistants: $50,000.
General Managers: $50,000.
Kitchen Managers: $50,000.
Assistant Managers: $30,000 to $50,000 annually.

Sales Managers at least $40,000 per year, but
Sous Chefs may make less than $30,000 per year.
It seems that Darden values it's salespeople more than it's cooks. Good food, however, sells itself.

BOH Employees in general: $8 to $10 per hour.
Host / Hostess: $8 to $10 per hour.
Bartender: $2 to $15 per hour; I am sure that it depends upon the state and the $15 may include tips.
Busser: $11,000 annually.

Some of you are probably screaming about how expensive it is to run a restaurant. Yes, it is. The profit margins for restaurants are lower than other retail businesses because the product cannot be stored forever; food goes bad.

And most people don't go into the shoe store hoping for free shoes. "Hey! I tried on these shoes and they hurt my toes! I want to take them home but not pay for them." What?!? That's like the people who complain about the food but still want you to pack it up for them. Some of them have the audacity to claim it is for their dog. (Too cheap to buy dog food?)

But I digress. There are two main points to this blog post: 1) I think it is safe to assume that Darden can afford to pay workers a little better than they are paying them now. It would mean shaving the top off of some of the six-figure salaries. 2) Business owners and those who make decisions regarding salaries and wages have a responsibility to pay workers a living wage. There is no excuse for waiting around for the government to raise the minimum by another 25 cents. When your employer pleads poverty, look at what he drives.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And Labor Rises

The voice in this anonymous reader's comments to Darden Lawsuit Links has the tone of the downtrodden rising. She describes in detail some of the egregious abuses that the least powerful Darden employees were subjected to at the dirty hands of corporate and management. And yet, what sit-down restaurant can operate without a waitress?

I am copying and pasting her own words verbatim. Of course, they remain at the bottom of the blog post on which they were first published.


Thanks a million as well. I was named in a lawsuit going back a few months ago, one employee had the balls to stand up and found a great attorney in Boca Raton. I might be able to pass the details of this attorney in a later blog. I was put on the witness list to testify for the employee, myself and others should it have gone to full blown court. Yes, it's true we worked off the clock, and at times not allowed to clock in until it got busy. If you did clock in they handed you a rag and made you wash the walls, with hazardous products.

I always also asked to get up on a ladder and get as high as I could to wash the walls. I refused to get up on the ladder. Sometimes we waited hours to get a table, off the clock, while others were getting tables. We were asked to sometimes go to the food prep areas and weigh and bag pasta, although not being allowed not to clock in as a food prep person who was making more than 10.00 per hour, so for example if it were a Sunday and you were at 40 hours that week and they needed you badly, you still had to do the food prep, again like weighing and bagging pasta, brocolli, that normally is given to a trained prep person again making more that 10.00 per hour=unpaid proper wage and no proper overtime. Another example of the unpaid wage is being an alley coordinator sometimes amounting to more that 7 or 8 hours during the week, while you are a server, with no compensation. 

The employee who went alone, did win the case. As with the tip reporting, by not being clocked in this grossly hurt servers with no tips to report, and let Darden not pay payroll taxes as owed to the IRS. Another problem is more hours were given to certain servers because they elected to be in the company's share holding. If you were in this program, you had to retain a certain amount of hours, thus you were guarenteed hours while others were not,,, How does that make tip reporting fair game??????????? So, you came to work on a dead day, as scheduled, waited for a table, clocked in and went to go back to do food prep, they said it was part of the servers job, when asked why I couldn't clocked in as a food prep person, you were frowned down to and either co-erced or imtimidated thus creating a hostile environment at times.

I will be calling in the morning I live in South Florida. The slave game is over Darden, own up to your dignity statement. We were not there to shine your walls with the rags you gave us and Murphy's oil soap which stinks to high heaven. Remember I did put a call into EEOC, and then corporate called me and told me " they were here to help me". I believed that statement just like I have a 747 aircraft for sale for 50 bucks all you have to do is come get it.

The pos system does not let you clock out if you want to declare more tips, you have to get a manager's approval, guess they are afraid we are going to mess up.

Anyone out there who stayed knows that we were there for our "guest". We made friends with our guests, they gave us business cards sometimes asking if we would like to visit their business. The church guests always gave us cards, that G.D, was thinking of us, sometimes I carried those cards in my pocket to remind me what the guest was trying to tell me all along, these guests are prominent people who come down from Atlanta for conferences and are powerful people, they have personally invited me to many meetings, see that is how a good server makes a guest connection. On any given day I could tell my company where a guest was visiting from, what cruise they were going on, what ports of call, what airline they arrived on the details go on and on. Some details are so personal that I wish to keep it that way for the guests confided in me.

There is a universal law called the power of attraction and I think that law finally caught up, plus all you have to do is google law. It is based on the old testament and eye for an eye. I believe there are many servers who are owed back pay, myself as well. We were too afraid to come forward for a long time.

Hi, continue from previous post. I had to omit some of the post due to going over the 4,000 limit on characters. I also wanted to let you know that I make every effort to proof read and if there is typo's I do apologize as I try to blog in a manner that is coherent and cohesive for all.

The "spokesperson" for Darden is not a server, therefore not representing us, and again trying to intimidate the servers. This lawsuit is not a farce, not fictious, nor frivolous. I am more than prepared to send a statement to the Sun Sentinel. If anything I strongly urge the servers current and those who left to come forward and at least have the opportunity to speak the truth.

Corporations by law, by law must answer and adhere to the shareholders first, or face criminal penalties by the trade commission. This is where we "employees get used and abused" and they face a catch 22.

If I get involved in this lawsuit, I might not be able to speak with anyone or blog about it. If I see the spokesperson again, tell such lies, I will be writing and sending some strong letters out there. This lawsuit is serious enough to have the Federal law involved, so please Darden please don't keep saying this is unfound or not heard of. Perhaps you need to look up the word in the dictionary called mediate, come to terms and come to the truth.

Also Darden, I don't believe this was the vision of the original founder of these restaurants. We will not tolerate to be slaves anymore, Lincoln freed the slaves and my ancestors were freed many years ago in Egypt.

I think in the long run, all the employees ask for is Dignity, treat them like normal people and stop the unethical practices, from what I hear your employees and thousands, have lost respect, hope and faith working for you.


That was beautiful. She clearly spelled out the outrageous and illegal behavior and expectations of Darden managment and corporate, and also described the very real Catch-22 that so many waitresses find themselves in: bend over and take it or lose your job. 

This is the voice of the restaurant laborer rising up. Shout it from the mountaintop: Waitresses deserve fair pay, job descriptions, and to be treated with basic human decency while on the job! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

How To Send Back Food In A Restaurant

This is cute and funny!

Lots of heavy stuff going on right now with lawsuits; I think a good laugh keeps us healthy.

There is a new series on YouTube by C2It. Episode One is titled "How to Send Back Food in a Restaurant Without Pi$$ing Off Your Server." Heh.

If you enjoyed that, you should know that there are new episodes from C2It every Monday... which pretty much means I am posting old news, I guess... 'cuz a new episode may be going up now...   so go check it out.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Darden Lawsuit Links

As a small service, I have gathered a handful of links to news items covering the lawsuit that food servers filed against Darden Restaurants. I hope the knowledge that this is being taken seriously and talked about in the news is helpful in some way.

This is the most important link: 


I believe the Darden Lawsuit site was put together by David Lichter, a lawyer representing the two named plaintiffs in this case. Please visit if you work or have worked for Darden. Know your rights.

And now the rest, in no particular order:

Waiter Pay

"In a Complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida, servers who worked at several Longhorn Steakhouse locations in Florida and at an Olive Garden in Georgia allege that the restaurants failed to pay their employees for all hours worked..."

"Lawyers for the workers also allege that similar pay violations occurred at different locations and brand restaurants centrally owned and operated by Darden and its subsidiaries throughout Florida and the United States..."

"...and Louis Pechman of Berke-Weiss & Pechman LLP (and founder of waiterpay.com), filed a lawsuit on behalf of waiters at Capital Grille alleging similar violations.  That lawsuit is still pending in New York federal court."

So, it seems that this lawsuit is filed by servers in Florida and Georgia, but the lawsuit alleges that the same violations occurred all over the United States. This clause helps pave the way for class-action damages for any all Darden servers who had their rights to pay violated.

I included the last paragraph to plug that the founder of the waiter pay website is a lawyer who represents servers. :-) (I have no connection to Waiter Pay.)



""We think it's the first lawsuit in the country that seeks a nationwide collective action involving all four of Darden's flagship restaurants, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille," said David Lichter of Higer Lichter & Givner, one of the lead attorneys who filed the complaint.

Lichter said it was not immediately clear how much money he and other lawyers would potentially demand that Darden pay out due to the lawsuit, in the form of back pay and other compensation.

But he said the complaint was aimed at putting the entire restaurant and hospitality industry on notice that abuses targeting poorly paid "tipped employees" would no longer be tolerated.

"In these times, people are struggling to get by. They're entitled to earn at least the minimum wage," Lichter told Reuters."

Some of this gets repeated at Yahoo News! as you shall see. But the crackdown on the restaurant industry is needed and a long time in coming. 

Also, am including this tidbit for your amusement:

"Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company takes "any claims of impropriety seriously." But he said Darden had no record of the plaintiffs in Thursday's complaint attempting to resolve their alleged pay complaints through an internal "dispute resolution" process.

"We believe they are baseless and fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business," Jeffers said."

Internal "dispute resolution" processes are set up not to help employees resolve disputes per se, but to prevent them from standing up for themselves and costing the company money and embarrassment. This, of course, is my jaded and cynical opinion. 


Associated Press

"Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the allegations "fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business... Each of our brands complies with all federal and state labor and employment laws, and we're proud of our standing as an employer of choice," he said in an email."

Okay, but the Associated Press goes on to report:

"The Department of Labor has found violations similar to those claimed in the lawsuit in several individual investigations, including a 2011 probe in which the company agreed to pay more than $25,000 in back wages to Olive Garden workers in Mesquite, Texas. Darden was also assessed a $30,800 fine in that case.

Also in 2011, Darden paid more than $27,000 in back pay and a nearly $24,000 civil penalty for labor violations involving 109 current and former Red Lobster workers in Lubbock, Texas, according to the Labor Department.

There are similar lawsuits pending in Illinois and New York..."

Perhaps Mr. Jeffers would like to clarify which of Darden's values these lawsuits fly in the face of?


Inside Counsel

"The suit names only two plaintiffs but seeks to represent possibly thousands of individuals who are current or former Darden employees from 2009 to the present. According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the plaintiffs are seeking tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation.

Darden Spokesman Rich Jeffers said in a statement that the company believes the claims “are baseless and fly in the face of our values and how we operate our business.”

But Darden isn’t a stranger to labor violations. Last year, the company paid more than $27,000 in back pay and a $24,000 civil penalty for labor violations involving 109 current and former Red Lobster employees in Lubbock, Texas, as well as $25,000 in back pay and a $30,800 fine for labor violations involving Olive Garden employees in Mesquite, Texas."

Yeah, I guess the other suits were baseless, as well.


Orlando Sentinel

"Attorneys are seeking to represent thousands of employees who worked at the four chains since August 2009 with the goal of collecting potentially millions of dollars in back wages...

...Lichter said the lawsuit could be expanded to include other chains. Darden also owns Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V's. It completed the purchase of Yard House last week."

Another reference to possible class-action. Those who work at Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V.'s may not be left behind. With any luck, Darden will have to stop abusing workers before they turn Yard House upside down.

Also, the Florida paper mentions ROC United:

"Darden faces similar accusations in a federal lawsuit filed by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a New York advocacy group for restaurant workers."

Gee, I wonder if we are seeing a pattern of behavior:

"The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division also fined Darden twice last year, saying employees at Olive Garden and Red Lobster in Texas had to work off the clock."


Yahoo! News

""We think it's the first lawsuit in the country that seeks a nationwide collective action involving all four of Darden's flagship restaurants, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille," said David Lichter of Higer Lichter & Givner, one of the lead attorneys who filed the complaint.
"Since the lawsuit has been filed this morning we've been contacted by servers around the country who have expressed interest in the action," Lichter said... [Lichter] said the complaint was aimed at putting the entire restaurant and hospitality industry on notice that abuses targeting poorly paid "tipped employees" would no longer be tolerated."

Good for you guys for contacting the lawyers and expressing interest in the the action!


Oregon (Powered by the Oregonian)

Oregon has stricter labor laws than the federal rules and regulations. There is no tip credit in Oregon; that means that waitresses and waiters make full minimum wage plus tips.

"Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants... have a history of Oregon wage complaints. 

The restaurants' Oregon employees have filed 11 wage-related complaints since 2000, the Bureau of Labor and Industries said Friday.

Given the operation's size, the quantity of complaints isn't necessarily cause for concern, bureau spokesman Bob Estabrook said. Still, the state takes every case seriously, he said. "It only takes one really heinous case to be absolutely devastating to an individual worker," he said."

That's nice of him. Unfortunately:

"Darden's Oregon employees have twice alleged they weren't paid what they were owed, once at a Red Lobster restaurant in 2001 and again at a Red Lobster in 2006. Details of those claims are unclear because the bureau only saves files for two years, Estabrook said."

So, he takes these things seriously for two years. After that all of that paperwork is a nasty fire hazard.(?)

"Other complaints deal with issues such as late pay or lack of breaks. In those cases, the bureau sent warning letters to the company outlining the issues."

Remember, federal law does not require employers to provide breaks. Oregon law does. Also, news flash for Estabrook: Darden does not take warnings seriously.


Human Resources Journal

"Its lead lawyer David Lichter said that the lawsuit seeks tens of millions of dollars in back pay and other compensation, plus interest and attorney fees. He said, “Darden has a companywide pattern and practice of paying its employees below minimum wage and less than what the law requires. We’re seeking not only to correct the wrongs that have occurred at Darden, but hopefully this will stimulate change across the country.”"

Awesome, Mr. Lichter. :-) Change across the country is what we need.

Also, for anybody who thinks that tens of millions of dollars is too much, routinely stealing pay from employees adds up. If someone stole $10 from you, should they only have to pay back $1 because $10 is too much?


Press Enterprise

"Darden is the owner of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille chains. All told, it’s about 1,900 restaurants for a chain that has 168,000 employees... Along with the back wages and overtime, the plaintiffs are requesting Darden inform all its employees that they have the right to join this lawsuit."

Wow. Maybe Darden thought it was too big to fail? And I love the last part about getting Darden to inform it's employees that they may join in the lawsuit. Heh. I'd love to see footage (or even just a written form) of a manager informing workers of this... but it is not worth anybody getting in more trouble.


Lawyers and Settlements

Yup, there is a short blurb about the lawsuit.


News, law journals, and human resource journals are all talking about this. Best of luck to all.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Darden Workers File Lawsuit

Huzzah! for Darden restaurant workers for standing up for themselves!

Darden Restaurants is being sued in federal court for violating federal labor laws. Darden is allegedly in violation of the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act. Among the allegations:

* Workers required to show up at a certain time, labor in the restaurant, but wait to clock in until their first table arrived. That means they were required to work off the clock, which is illegal.

* Workers were required to clock out and continue to labor and work in the restaurant after doing so. See above.

* Workers claim they spent more than twenty percent of their working time performing non-tipped work, but received only tipped employee wages. Employers are required to pay full minimum wage for time working non-tipped labor if that time equals more than twenty percent of the shift.

* Workers who worked more than 40 hours in a week were denied overtime pay. Workers are guaranteed overtime pay by the federal government.

Darden would be well-advised to take this seriously. Applebee's was sued by servers for tip violations. The servers won, Applebee's appealed and the Supreme Court denied their appeal and upheld the decision in favor of the food servers. Food servers have rights to be paid fairly.

So, I wonder how Darden got included in Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work in 2012? Supposedly, the workplaces are chosen based upon employee surveys. I can't imagine laborers being treated in ways described above giving positive answers to such a questionnaire. Perhaps it wasn't the laborers, but rather the managers and corporate employees who took the survey. The laborers were silent.

Today, the laborers are not silent. 

Political Discussion

Received a long comment of dissent from a reader to my To Whom Shall I Complain? post. Of course, as I am liberal, the voice of dissent represents conservative, Republican viewpoints. 

I considered responding in the comments, but decided that I would rather do so in a new post because more people will see it. The discussion is important, even more so right now as we come closer and closer to November. 

Discuss, debate, and research. Then, vote. 

As always, her words are in italics. I did not edit her comment, but did place my responses within.  (You can also read her comment straight through on the other post.) 
Although it is easy to spend other people's money, it will run out eventually, that being said, I have worked and am currently working two jobs so I will have insurance.

While your money may run out, money itself does not run out. In a healthy economy, money simply keeps changing hands. In our current situation, money isn't changing hands, wealth isn't being distributed, and you are working two jobs. I'll keep coming back to this.

If Romney wins the election, then less wealth will be distributed in the next four years than in the last four years. One of the ways that wealth is distributed in modern American society is via taxes. The rich will continue to pay less of their fortunes in taxes under Romney & Ryan. That means there will be less to go around for the rest of us who have been dubbed "the 99%." If you wish to work three jobs and maybe have health insurance, then your should definitely vote for Romney. 

Obama will raise taxes on the very rich. He will NOT raise taxes on the middle class. The middle class will be better off with Obama & Biden in office for another four years. 

In that time I have witnessed many people only working the bare minimum, smoking, drinking, nails done (for females) hair done, tattoo's, money for drugs, and going to clubs or bars.

I don't smoke. I think that anybody who starts smoking in this day and age must have a strain of stupidity, because the knowledge that smoking causes cancer and a slew of other health problems is everywhere. You have to deaf, blind, and living in a basement to not know that smoking kills.

How many people are screaming in indignation at me right now? Sure. And to continue, I would not deny smokers health care when they develop the nasty symptoms and cancers associated with smoking.

Nor should we throw out the baby with the bathwater, to speak metaphorically, and refuse to have any social welfare programs because you know people who do things and make choices you don't like.
There are many people who do not wish to pay for others not making the better choice.
If you can't balance your own budget, why would I want or intrust you to mine? I wouldn't. Less government, less spending, and more responsibility for your own actions.

I think this is grossly over-simplistic. A government budget that includes expensive and illegal wars (waged by Republicans) in the OOPS! wrong country is pretty damn hard to balance. Much easier to balance your checkbook, I am sure. Not the same thing.

Anything worth having is worth working for, and worth making the proper choice, if you work more you are getting a penalty, if you are getting welfare when do you pay tax?

If it were as easy and simple to just tell everybody to "go get a job," then your point would make sense. Instead of fussing about how welfare recipients don't pay tax, how about fussing that millionaires don't pay tax? Obama will raise taxes on millionaires, not the middle class, and not the poor. Romney will lower his own tax rate from 13% to less than 1%. You think you have it bad now having to pick up the slack for poor people? If Romney wins, you will become a poor person yourself.  

Why can't the government stop people using EBT cards for liquor, smokes, drugs, or anything else for that matter unrelated to food?

I don't know where you are getting your information, but according to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food stamps are for food, not for liquor or cigarettes. Perhaps you are aware of a crime being committed, and now believe that all SNAP recipients should lose their benefits? If somebody is using EBT to get any non-food item, then a crime is being committed. 

Even if I was starving I couldn't get food stamps or anything else for that matter because I have a mortgage albeit not a mansion, and was never living above my means, but anyone with a pulse got loans backed by Fanny and Freddy, not qualified for 100,000.00 let alone 200,000.00 and 300,000.00.

You sound jealous, like you should have lived above your means so you could be in foreclosure or homeless now. 

If you sincerely believe you will be better off on food stamps, then I strongly suggest you sell your home and become poor enough to need food stamps. Then, you can compare your situation now and then and decide whether you are better off on food stamps. 

Food stamps and bank loans to purchase a house are two entirely different things. The reason that so many people got loans that they could not afford was deregulation of the banking industry. Obama & Biden believe that the government should oversee organizations such as the banking industry. Reagan and the Bushes were against government involvement, took away regulation, and paved the way for the recent housing crisis. Romney and Ryan will continue to allow large corporations to rape and pillage the middle class, because their policies favor deregulation. 

The bank customers were not bad people who just wanted more money than they could ever pay back. In most cases, they went to the bank with their tax returns and any other financial information in hand. They asked the banker if they were eligible for the loan. The banker had to make the decision whether the people would reasonably be able to pay back the loan. That was his job.

As the rules regulating bankers and home loans were loosened, banks made money giving loans to unsuspecting home buyers. The home buyers assumed that the bankers knew what they were doing -- and they were right. The bankers were getting rich selling loans. (Similar to credit cards, but more complicated and with dire consequences.)

Having to inspect these housing developments knowing they don't have insurance on their property, or pay their association dues. Why did I bring this example up, well why and how did they get approved in droves with "no doc loans", and why is everyone else taking it on the chin?

When you buy into a subdivision you have to pay the association fee's because it works on a zero balance at the end of the year, so when someone does not pay the balance is in the negative, which means everyone else needs to pick up the slack, that is not how a budget should work.
The government, or the democrats are not getting a budget together and charging more tax, (example) three plus percent sales tax on any house sold $3,800.00 per 100,000. No taxes if you don't earn more than 250,000.00, how is this true? How is Obama care getting ramped up and funded?

The Democrats are not charging more tax on the middle class. The Democrats are charging less tax on the middle class, and want to charge more tax on the extremely wealthy. If you are working two jobs so you can have health insurance, you are in no danger of Obama & Biden raising your taxes. If you own more than one mansion, car elevators and dressage horses, then yes, Obama has every intention of raising your taxes. 

Remember what I said about money itself not running out, but rather that wealth must be distributed? That is what taxing the rich does -- distributes the finite wealth to fund basic social services and public programs.

I know he got into Harvard, but if that is such an achievement why hasn't he produced his transcripts, put up or shut up, or drop it. But all this talk is digging us a deeper whole, and I'm sorry but what is actually on the record is only a huge bill, and is only getting bigger by the second.

Are you serious? You want Obama's school transcripts?!? I am trying to take you seriously, but you need to take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why a black man has been repeatedly asked for his birth certificate and a white man doesn't even have to show his tax returns. Tax returns are relevant information, and Obama did show his. Now you want Obama to pony up his school transcripts? Romney went to Harvard Law School. Why don't you want to see Romney's transcripts? Why don't you want to see Romney's birth certificate? 

He has had his way for too long now, and Reagan turned it around in the 80's, proven method, but if your a democrat, I guess it's better to put the entire over a barrel instead of on top, because it was a republican solution.

Reagan turned something around, that's for sure. He started the junk economics of "trickle down" theory. Meaning, if we stop distributing wealth, and let the rich keep it, they will continue to share it out of the goodness of their hearts. It doesn't work: when the rich get to keep their money, guess what they do? They keep it. 

Another name for trickle-down economics: "Supply side economics." That is when the very few get to decide what business makes a profit today, because only the very few have any money to spend. 

Economy, in reality, is driven by demand, not supply. For example, when "job creators" are required to pay living wages to their employees, then more people can afford to purchase goods and services, and the economy gets stronger. Then those so-called "job creators" hire more people, not because they are "job creators" but because there is so much demand for their business that they need more employees. 

If you want a living wage so you can work one job, have health insurance and an easier life for the middle and poorer classes, then you should vote for Obama. 

I have no idea what you are saying about a barrel, other than you think Democrats don't appreciate Reagan simply because we are unthinking Dems. I think Reagan was a sorry excuse for a president because, in addition to the "trickle-down"myth, he ripped away funding from public hospitals and other services for the indigent, which is part of the reason homelessness rose during his tenure.

I remember a tuberculosis (TB) scare in San Francisco in the wake of this fiasco. The homeless were literally littering the street, people had to tiptoe around them just to get to work. The homeless were coming down with TB and coughing into the air; the middle and upper classes became concerned about themselves because TB does not discriminate based upon how much money you have. I thought it served the heartless conservatives right.

It also demonstrates the argument that when we do not build a strong society that takes care of it's own, we all get hurt. Progressives taxes (taxing the rich a higher rate, not a lower rate) to fund not just hospitals but roads, libraries, schools, etc. ensure that we are all better off. If you think you can get rich working yourself to death as long as you don't have to contribute to society via a reasonable tax rate, then your are kidding yourself. 

I wish his talk was cheap, but it is costing us a fortune, in addition to everything else.

It is grossly unfair to blame Obama for an economic situation that was caused by W. Bush. Bush cut taxes for the very rich, Obama will increase taxes for the very rich to help the middle and poorer classes. Bush borrowed gobs of money from our future to wage wars in OOPS! the wrong country and Bush left an economic mess in his wake. I'm not surprised that it hasn't been all fixed up in less than four years.

You have your opinion, and I must say I do not, and will not agree with your opinion in relation to these subjects.
I respect your work, however I will never be silent, because as long as it is still legal to have opinion, this will be mine! 

Silence is deafening. ;-) Never be silent.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Would You Like Blow With That?

Tilted Kilt never has a dull moment. They were recently told "No, you may not open up a Tilted Kilt" location near the Catholic Church in Boston. Perhaps their "Scottish Hooters" image is not quite wholesome enough for the faithful.

Tilted Kilt is, however, doing business in New Jersey. As a matter of fact, until recently you could enter the Tilted Kilt, ogle the waitresses and buy food, booze, and cocaine courtesy of Odell Jones, Jr.

Jones would station himself at the bar in the Tilted Kilt Pub on Newark Pompton Turnpike, and openly sell cocaine. No word yet on whether he had an arrangement with the Pub or whether he was wholly independent. He was arrested with cocaine in his pocket as well as a bag of blow "hidden" under a tennis bracelet on his wrist.

I have heard of people dealing in back rooms of less-than-wholesome adult establishments. But right at the bar of so-called restaurant? I guess Jones and the Kilt figured he would attract more customers if they could see what was available. Next time, they should try putting blow on the menu.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's Not Illegal...

...to be an a$$hole.

Sorry, but it's true. Was holding off posting this because I don't want to discourage Darden servers who may have been discriminated against from standing up for themselves. But this is relevant to more than one recent "Ask the Waitress" question. Some of the situations described herein are different from those in the current Darden fiasco.

I responded to one "Ask the Waitress!" question recently with a post titled, Stealing Tables. The waitress wanted to know what to do about other servers taking her tables. Perhaps I should have mentioned the possibility of the asker discussing the issue in private with the waitress who was stealing her tables.

I remember once catching a co-worker in a private area and pointing out quietly that he should not disparage me in front of customers. He turned on his heel as he called out over his shoulder, "Oh, Under, I'm not afraid of you!" as he ran out. He ran out so fast I had to look behind me to see what he was afraid of. I never found it. The point is, sometimes a conversation works, but only if two people are willing to have it.

Without further information about the asker's relationship with the co-worker stealing tables or the policies of the restaurant,  I simply suggested discussing the issue with the manager.

Fellow blogger Norma Beishir added to the conversation with the logical next question:

"What do you do when the boss doesn't care?"

Get another job.

I know, it sounds harsh. And no, I am not one of those self-important types who think that getting a great job is easy. These days, getting any job isn't easy; I do understand this.

Generally, if something is not forbidden, then it is legal. That means we have to have a rule written on the books or in case law* before an employee has a legal complaint.

I have a great example demonstrating this need to find a rule from my own experience. My least favorite manager used to tell everyone in December that if we worked Christmas Eve, we could work New Year's Eve. (Not saying she was the only manager who promised this.) Most waitresses wanted to be home on Christmas Eve, but everybody wanted to work New Year's Eve because it promised to be quite lucrative.

That manager's last winter, I worked Christmas Eve. I was not put on the schedule for New Year's Eve. (It gets worse -- she put a waitress on the New Year's Eve schedule who was not a regular employee because they were friends.)

How many readers are thinking, "That's not fair!" It wasn't fair. It was inconsiderate, rude, and grossly unprofessional. BUT: Was it illegal?

Illegal HR Policy
Here's the catch: I am Jewish. Yes, it was illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects workers from being discriminated against on the basis of religion. Discrimination is the unjust, prejudicial, or different treatment of specific groups of people. The manager had one set of rules for Christians and a different set of rules for me, a Jew. I had a legitimate legal complaint, had I chosen to file it.

What if I were Christian and the same thing happened? Manager changed the rules because she wanted to do a favor for the seasonal waitress, and just didn't like me enough to care about my feelings? Still unfair. Still inconsiderate and downright rude. Still grossly unprofessional.

But illegal? No. I know of no laws protecting at-will employees against managers breaking verbal promises. The point of this example is to demonstrate that an actual law has to be broken for an employee to have an actionable complaint. Employers and managers are not required by law to be nice people.


Quick note on Darden: older workers may have a claim that they were subject to age discrimination. Federal law protects workers aged 40 and older from age discrimination. Some states lower or remove that cap; for example, in some state a 30 year old may claim age discrimination. Based on the many stories I have read, it seems plausible that Darden was attempting to get rid of older workers.

Having looked at the test that Darden servers were subjected to, I will also mention that some of the questions seemed to be directly targeting people with ADHD tendencies. This may be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA.) I do not know for certain and it should be discussed with people who are experts in ADA law and discrimination.

Labor Law

Cornell University has a nice overview of Labor Law:

"The goal of labor laws is to equalize the bargaining power between employers and employees. The laws primarily deal with the relationship between employers and unions. Labor laws grant employees the right to unionize and allows employers and employees to engage in certain activities (e.g. strikes, picketing, seeking injunctions,lockouts) so as to have their demands fulfilled.

The area of labor law is governed by both federal law, state law and judicial decisions. It is also governed by regulations and decisions of administrative agencies..."

Did you catch that? The above excerpt is talking about unions. Non-unionized employees have no bargaining power; they are dime-a-dozen. If at-will employees don't like their working conditions, and they can't find a law that protects them, their best bet may simply be to look for other employment.

Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are sometimes found to imply a contract. For example, let's say the handbook says you get three written reprimands, and then you are fired. But, you get fired with no written reprimands.

You complain because the handbook says you will be fired after three written reprimands. Your employer counters that you are an at-will employee; you can be fired at any time, with or without the reprimands. Was the handbook a contract?

It most likely depends upon the exact wording in the handbook. And the handbook probably includes paragraphs saying the "agreement" was not a contract, etc...

Changing the Law

As I explained in To Whom Should I Complain, if you want to change the rules that are written on the books, then you have to consider the beliefs and values of the people who represent you in the government. If you vote in conservative, pro-business Republicans to be your mayor, governor, senator and congressperson, then you will be hard-pressed to find a sympathetic ear when you complain to your representatives about low pay, no breaks and an employer who treats you poorly. As long as the employer is not breaking the law, there is not much you can do. If you want to change the law, start voting for representatives who sympathize with labor.

*Case Law

The Georgetown Law Library has a nice page on Case Law:

"Every law student and practicing attorney must be able to find, read, analyze, and interpret case law. Under the common law principles of stare decisis, a court must follow the decisions in previous cases on the same legal topic. Therefore, finding cases is essential to finding out what the law is on a particular issue." 

Everything is not so "black and white." When dealing with complicated situations, lawyers research case law and use past decisions as examples why their client should win. (Essentially: This guy with a similar situation won last time, so my guy should win this time.)

Back to the original questions from Stealing Tables: Co-worker is stealing tables. What to do?

* You could attempt to discuss the issue with the co-worker in private. If this solves the problem, awesome.
* You could discuss the issue with the manager. You and the manager might go over the policies in the restaurant, and the problem behavior on the floor. If this helps, awesome.

Manager does not care. What to do?

* You could beat up the co-worker out back. You may, however, get arrested for assault and battery. I don't recommend this. (<- sarcasm.)
* You could fight it out on the dining room floor, but customers will likely notice tension among the staff. This is unprofessional and you could get fired. (<- still sarcasm.)
* You could look for another job. With any luck, you will find a better job.

In closing, it never hurts to look for another job, and it can feel empowering. I have, on more than one occasion, been offered another job, thought about it, and decided I was still better off where I was. At the very least, I gained perspective by seeing what else was available.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day?

Quick post today, Monday, September 3, 2012. It is Labor Day today.

How many of you are working today? How about tonight?

Labor Day is supposed to honor the laborers, the workforce. Labor Day is supposed to honor the clerk behind the counter of your favorite shop; instead, the shop owner decides that due to the holiday he should be open to make sales. Labor Day is supposed to honor the hard-working waitress; instead, she will likely take more tables today. The restaurant owner decided to stay open to feed holiday crowds.

The only people who get to celebrate Labor Day are those who are not laboring for a living. Because it is a federal holiday, federal employees are lucky today and get to celebrate. But if you are a laborer for a private employer, you may not even realize it was a holiday today. (Until you get home and there is no mail...)

While Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in September, it is also called May Day. On May 1, 1886, industrial workers took to the streets in many major American cities demanding an 8 hour workday. Back then, "job creators" would claim that they could not afford to stay in business if workers didn't work fourteen hour days.

Today, "job creators" claim they can not afford to stay in business if they have to pay workers a living wage. In reality, "job creators" can't afford to stay in business because nobody has any money to spend, because their "job creating" employers pay them dirt.

Chicago workers were especially vigilant in their efforts to help the laborer. According to the Hot Labor Library in San Francisco, California:

At the factory gates of McCormick Harvester Co., where a strike meeting was being held on May 3, policemen swung their clubs and then fired into the running strikers....The speaker at the meeting was August Spies, a member of the Central Labor Union, which had supported the May First strike. He was also a member of a militant labor group that was at the time influential in the Chicago Labor movement. Six workers were killed that day and many wounded... 

...[Labor leaders in Chicago were] rounded up and thrown in jail. Eight of these finally came to trial--Albert Parsons, August Spies, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fieldon, Adolph Fischer and Oscar Neebe. The presiding judge helped pick the jury which was strongly anti-labor and hostile to the defendants. The trial lasted 63 days. All of the men were declared guilty of murder. All were given death sentences, except Neebe who got a 15-year prison sentence. 

A nationwide defense campaign won wide popular favor...At the last moment, as a result of widespread protests, the Governor of Illinois commuted to life imprisonment the sentences of Fieldon and Schwab. It was reported that Lingg "committed suicide" in his cell.

On November 11, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged. On the gallows Spies cried, "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today." ...

I do hope that Spies was correct. Today, however, too many laborers go to work on Labor Day so the elite can celebrate a day off from work with shopping and eating out.

I highly recommend reading about Labor Day both at May Day, International Worker's Day and The History of May Day. When you get back from work tonight, that is.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

To Whom Shall I Complain?

Did I tell this, who would believe me?

Those are the words of Shakespeare's Isabella in Measure for Measure, Act II Scene iv.

Her brother has been sentenced to death by the judge, Angelo. Angelo tells Isabella that if she has sex with him, he will let her brother live. Because of Angelo's status, Isabella knows that if she complains, she will not be believed.

Waitresses, on the other hand, are not so much worried about being believed as they are finding a listening ear that cares. The fact that waitresses have trouble making a living is not news, but if she complains, she is told her tips are down because she is a bad waitress. Then, she finds she has no job and is worse off than before. 

The rich and powerful often seem not to care about poor wages, lack of benefits, and long work hours. 

Labor unions are one answer to the problems labor faces, albeit an unperfect one. As almost all waitresses have no union, it is a moot point. 

This Ask the Waitress! query was sent my way recently:

hello i am a server/waitress, you already know we don't have benefits, and that it is very hard work dealing with costumers, being the face of a place in which the employer doesn't really care about you as a person.

Of course, we have a choice to leave and look for something else. But my question is to whom we should complain, who regulates the wage and the conditions under which we work?
maybe we can make a change if we know to whom we should complain.
thank you

Not long ago I received a query about how to handle waitress shenanigans, for example, what to do if another waitress is stealing your tables. In that case, I said that discussing the workplace policies and procedures with a manager was an employee's best bet and the first thing she should do.

This question is different:

* Who sets wages? To whom shall I complain to get a larger wage for workers?

* Who makes rules about working conditions? To whom shall I complain if I want
     a lunch break
     a rest break
     overtime pay based on hours worked per day
     sick pay and vacation pay
     benefits, such as health care.

* To whom shall I complain in order to change things for the better?

Minimum Wage

Wage rules and regulations that affect workers are made by state governments and the federal government. This is why it is so important that people pay attention to politics, and especially how different types of policies have affected Americans over the years.

The Department of Labor (DOL) is a federal office that regulates and specifies the minimum that workers are entitled to receive in return for their employment. The DOL's Fair Labor Standard's Act (FLSA)establishes rules regarding minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor.

One of the things that President Obama wanted to do for Americans was raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011. Before you start faulting him for failing, look at how and why this plan failed. Republicans fought it and kept it from happening. The American people filled the house with not just Republicans, but some states filled seats with the most radical of so-called conservatives, Tea Party members.

If you wish to raise the minimum wage (including the tipped employee minimum wage,) then you must consider the two party platforms when you go to vote. The conservative agenda is tell business owners they can do whatever it is they need to do to stay in business. The liberal agenda believes that it is the role of the government to mandate and regulate how society operates, including businesses (and the banking industry.) 

Complaining directly to the DOL will get you nowhere. Every state has elected leaders that represent the people in that state. You may complain directly to your state representatives. Every senator and congressman (or woman) should have a website by now that gives information on how to contact them, such as emails and phone numbers.

However, if you live in a state that is represented by someone who believes in unregulated Capitalism, your complaints may fall on deaf ears. The time to think about issues that affect you and your neighbors is in the voting booth.

Health Insurance

The DOL's FLSA leaves the decision up to employers ofwhether or not to offer health insurance to employees. If you wish for the government to get involved in making health care available to more people, that is exactly what President Obama is trying to do. Mitt Romney said flat out, at the end of his extremely fluffy speech at the convention, that he would repeal "Obamacare." (It was one of the few concrete things he said.) 

So, if you want access to the benefit of health care, you may complain to your state representatives, and think about health care when you go to vote.


I wrote about the lack of federal regulation of breaks in Rest Breaks, Meal Breaks, Smoke Breaks. Some states have enacted additional rules on top of the federal rules (or lack thereof.) In California, if you are denied a ten minute paid break for every four hours of work, you complain first to your manager, and then, if necessary, to your lawyer.

In some states, however, there are no additional rules about allowing employees to take a break. On the federal level, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enacted the sanitation standard in (get this) 1998. Not 1898, 1998. Less than fifteen years before the date of this blog post. The sanitation standard states, in part

The sanitation standard is intended to ensure that employers provide employees with sanitary and available toilet facilities, so that employees will not suffer the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them.

Make note that there is still no regulation regarding how many hours an employee may be expected to work without the opportunity to void. 

To whom shall you complain about the need for breaks?

You may start, once again, with government representatives. You may choose to go directly to the state level, or contact a more local politician such as a mayor or governor. You may consider starting a petition and getting as many workers to sign it as you can. 

Lobbying is extremely hard work, and much more complicated than just drafting a petition. I don't want to sound like some ehow article, "How to Create World Peace."

However, if you want to change the rules and regulations that determine how businesses must behave, then you must vote for pro-labor politicians. (Right now, that means Democrats.) Write your state representatives about what your concerns are, and lobby for what you want if you can. Your employer only has to treat you as well as the law requires. 

Thanks for Asking the Waitress!